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Adidas shakes up NIL landscape with offer for athletes at all of its affiliated D-I colleges

(Andreas Gebert/Reuters)
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In a novel and potentially wide-reaching approach to the emerging landscape of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, Adidas announced Wednesday an initiative that could turn thousands of college athletes into paid brand ambassadors within the next two years.

The global sports giant said its NIL network will be available to eligible athletes across 23 sports at the 109 NCAA Division I schools affiliated with Adidas. That could put compensation within reach of more than 50,000 participants in sports programs, per the company.

“The adidas NIL network embodies our belief that sport has the power to change lives by upskilling athletes and giving them the ability to begin to experience an entrepreneurial path that will carry them beyond their college years,” Jim Murphy, the company’s NCAA program lead, said in a statement. “This is not just a first-of-its-kind program for the brand and industry, it goes much wider by unlocking opportunities in business and life that will enable them as student-athletes to maximize their NIL, opening the doors to future possibilities.”

Adidas said the NIL network will first be extended this fall to historically Black colleges and universities and Power Five conference partners before scaling across all affiliated colleges by April 2023.

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According to a spokesman for the company, eligible athletes will be able to opt into the program and earn a commission on sales they drive to Adidas’s website and through its mobile app. They could also be paid for social media posts.

“We also want to open the doors to a more equitable future outside of just unlocking monetary rewards to help them grow as student-athletes and set them up for a future beyond college sports,” the spokesman said via email Wednesday. “The possibilities of how this grows and how we as a brand bring elevated opportunities to them are endless.”

The NCAA reversed a decades-old stance last year with approval of an interim policy allowing athletes under its purview to profit off NIL rights. That shift occurred as laws in several states were set to go into effect affording athletes that ability to be compensated. According to the National College Players Association, 28 states have passed NIL laws, which vary on how much athletes can make and under what circumstances. Adidas noted in its announcement that the ability of athletes to enroll in its network is dependent on the NIL rules of their schools and their locations.

An example of the new world in which college athletes exist arrived Wednesday when Saint Peter’s guard Doug Edert — the mustachioed hero of the unheralded school’s stunning run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — gleefully revealed on Instagram that he is now a paid partner of a national chicken wings chain. A cheerleader for Indiana whose shoulder-borne retrieval of a stuck ball during a tournament game went viral was also able to quickly cash in.

A recent study shared by Front Office Sports assessed that brands were on pace to spend almost $600 million on NIL deals over the 12 months following the NCAA’s decision. Thus far, those deals have been distributed in a mostly piecemeal fashion to athletes of high achievement or broad reach through social media engagement.

Adidas did not specify how much athletes could make under its program or how much it plans to expend. The spokesman said enrolled athletes would not be barred from signing NIL deals with other brands, assuming those agreements also accorded with state laws.

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The company’s announcement noted it was arriving shortly before the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that prohibited discrimination based on sex on federally funded education programs. Adidas shared a statement from Candace Parker in which the WNBA star praised the NIL network as “an incredible step forward for the growth of women’s sports.”

“It will have an impact on the future of college athletics and hopefully create a more equal, sustainable landscape where athletes feel supported and invested in as they grow in their college careers,” Parker stated.

“Our groundbreaking NIL program advances our commitments toward building inclusivity in sport and inspires athletes to realize a more equitable world,” Rupert Campbell, the head of the company’s North America division, said in a statement. “I can’t wait to see it come to life.”